Biblical films/Christian entertainment

I was wondering if anyone has thoughts on films/shows that attempt to depict the Bible somewhat realistically.

For example, Mel Gibson’s Passion or a “new” show out that is called The Chosen (I think it’s new).

I’ve heard this is a great show. But my gut is against it. Most of my friends tell me I’m being silly. A close friend recently recommended The Chosen very highly saying that it is very close to the Biblical narrative and doesn’t attempt to make changes.

I guess the reason I dont like these things - or have hesitations - is that it is too close to the Bible. It seems like if God wanted us to have a miniseries, He could have given it to us. But He gave us a book. Visual media is so good at making impressions and shaping our minds and memories, that I am hesitant to let a film/show influence my reading of the Bible.

Just curious if I am alone/if others have thoughts on this. Maybe I’m just crazy.

Comments appreciated, esp if you think I’m mostly wrong.

(I appreciate the community here, but I haven’t posted lately because of a lot of other stuff going on in my life/church, maybe I’ll post about that soon to seek prayer/council.)

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You’re not crazy. I have identical reservations. Friends have also urged me to watch the Chosen.

Unless we are both crazy??

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A while back my wife and I, who had previously read Pilgrim’s Progress, watched a new animated version of it. I was throughly unimpressed. Even with stories/narratives that are not the Bible (and thus there’s no 2nd commandment considerations you could invoke) films just don’t do them justice. Read the book instead.

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My sister and brother-in-law really enjoy The Chosen, and, come to think of it, my dad actually had my family watch the pilot mini-episode on Christmas Day about Jesus’ birth. It seemed like it was quite well done.

There are many “Jesus movies”, and there are a few that my dad really likes and recommends. He likes their ability to tell the story of the gospel to people who have no ability to read, so he uses them over in the Congo.

That said, I’m always uncomfortable with images of Jesus in any medium, so I’m not inclined to watch any of the Jesus films.

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We’ve had The Chosen recommended quite a number of times. I am extremely skeptical. I’ve considered watching some of it just to see how it is coloring people’s interpretation of God’s Word, but haven’t gotten around to it.

What I’ve said to several people is that God chose to reveal His Son to us through the Word of God, and we should be wary of the enticement of image-based presentations of that Word. The puritans would have said that any image of Jesus is at best giving us a half-Christ (see below), considering that the best such an image can do is present to us a representation of Jesus’ humanity without giving us His deity.

I’ve never watched The Chosen, but I am 100% sure that it adds much to Scripture. There’s no way to make a movie of the Bible (at least not an exciting one) without adding details, aspects of people’s character, events, relationships, and much more to what is revealed in Scripture. We should tremble at the curses for those who add to the Word of God.

Speaking of adding to God’s Word, don’t miss the fact that The Chosen is largely backed by Mormons, who are idolaters and do not believe in the full deity of Jesus Christ. Just read the Wikipedia page, and it’s clear it’s all tangled up with Mormonism: VidAngel, BYUtv, filmed in Utah at the Mormons’ replica of Jerusalem where they shoot their own Book of Mormon videos…

Here’s Watson:

It is Christ’s Godhead, united to His manhood, that makes him to be Christ; therefore to picture his manhood, when we cannot picture his Godhead, is a sin, because we make him to be but half Christ—we separate what God has joined, we leave out that which is the chief thing which makes him to be Christ.

We must conceive of God spiritually. (1) In his attributes—his holiness, justice, goodness—which are the beams by which his divine nature shines forth. (2) We must conceive of him as he is in Christ. Christ is the “Image of the invisible God” as in the wax we see the print of the seal (Col. 1:15). Set the eyes of your faith on Christ-God-man. “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).

(Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments [1692; Banner of Truth, 1965], 62)

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What a helpful comment, @acmcneilly. Thank you!

This part from your Watson quote stuck out to me:

How is it that watching a movie of Jesus pictures his manhood without picturing his Godhead, but reading his words does not?

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Wow. Had no clue about the Mormon angle.

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I think it’s analogous to the distinction with Song of Solomon: reading it is appropriate but watching a visual depiction would be pornographic.

It’s the difference between the written word and visual media. The way they hit us. Our imagination is far less powerful than our eyes, at least when the two collide. I remember the way I tried to imagine the battle of Helm’s Deep the first time I read the Lord of the Rings. Very very different to Jackson’s depiction. But now I can’t get Jackson’s depiction out of my mind!

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I think Lew Wallace’s convictions about portraying Christ in the stage and film adaptations of his work were wise.

I still prefer the book Ben-Hur to any of its film offspring.

I have also used film in discipleship. Gladiator. Hacksaw Ridge. Free Burma Rangers. After each outing we discuss the film … usually over burgers and beverages.

Matthew… word for word from everyone’s favorite translation… runs ~4 hours. I’ve used it with teens and adults as part of a New Year’s Eve Jesus dare. “Dare to start your year with Jesus.” I’ve shown the film is segments. People follow along in NIV Bibles. We discuss what the film gets right and wrong. Usually takes 6-7 hours depending on if we watch the ball drop an how long prayers run.

I have seen this film-critic method kick-start Bible reading for young men who have no history with Scripture and for older saints who have decayed away from our Book.

I also use music, and paintings, and sculpture and poetry and commentaries and work projects and creeds as teaching aids.

My Dad, in his 70s, wept when he recommended the Chosen. I was predestined to watch … with my entire family: my nine year old son, his six older siblings, my wife and my parents. We spent hours together talking about Jesus, evaluating true and false ideas about Jesus, talking about the value and difficulty harmonizing the Gospels and modeling and excercising our discernment muscles… together.

Yes, the film crew took liberties. Yes, they confused Biblical timelines. We practiced Sola Scriptura by showing how the Canon was our rule for evaluating everything.

As with Ben-Hur, Narnia, the War of the Rings, Wallace & the Bruce, and the Apollo program… the BOOK is better than the movie.

Amistad took massive liberties with history. But it was still so compelling that I found JQA’s actual closing arguments… and learned about the real Tappan.

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That’s a good question. Obviously, Watson would not have had movies in mind as he wrote that. However, he certainly would have had paintings, statues, and stained glass windows accompanied by the words of Scripture, even as part of the artwork itself.

I suppose you could argue that a movie depiction presents images of Christ, but it also includes His words, so isn’t that therefore presenting us with the Godhead of Christ in addition to His manhood?

In response, I think I would agree with @aaron.prelock, that we should be honest about the potency of images. Why are movies so powerful? It’s because of the power of imagery, and the medium is the message. I find it difficult to believe—certainly for myself—that what ends up being embraced when watching a film representation of Jesus is the real Jesus, rather than a seductive carnal counterfeit of Him.

I think Watson’s argument is that the best an image of Christ itself can give us is simply a representation of His outward, physical nature. To apply that to movies: even if you have that image moving its mouth and saying words from the Bible, the image itself is still not Jesus, especially when you consider how awful every manmade depiction of Jesus is. Gimme a movie/TV representation of the Gospels which has an ugly Jesus, and I’ll begin to consider whether or not it does a good job portraying our Lord, kna’mean?

He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
(Isaiah 53:2)

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Yeah, I think that’s the centre of the issue. This is why visual depictions of the crucifixion are so dangerous. They focus our attention on what is at best the periphery while completely missing the core of what’s happening. When, by contrast, the gospel writers gave us sparingly little on the physicality of the event.

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When @Dani.McN was growing up, they watched The Prince of Egypt (1998) and her dad promised the kids a dollar for each departure from the biblical account they could identify. (She wanted me to include that she remembers that she made $5 :smile:)

I’m certainly not opposed to doing things like that. I do think we should be increasingly more cautious as we get closer in proximity to artistic manipulations of Him whom we worship.

I think it’s a sad indicator of no fear of God (and poor teaching) that the thought would never cross our minds that it might be sinful to make an image of the Lord.

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Dear Alex,

Yes indeed. It’s embarrassing to me how old I was before I understood that I ought to feel guilt for looking on images of Christ. Very little fear of God. We are in a sorry state.

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Thanks for the response.

Not sure if you are serious about the NIV being “everyone’s favorite translation.” I feel like your tongue is firmly in your cheek with that remark :grinning: I went through this as a teenager with our youth group and certainly had a favorable impression that has stuck with me. Now when I see clips I think I remember this in a good way. I can certainly see how something like this might be helpful for people coming to the Bible for the first time with little understanding of what it is yet. I think it could also be hurtful to those same because it could color the way they read the Bible in negative ways. If done carefully, it could be helpful.

It sounds like you are someone with a firm grasp of the Bible already, someone with a solid foundation. If you can go through a film and pick out the points at which it deviates from scripture, then you are well-set to keep it from confusing you. If not, however, then the film could turn into a form of soft false-teaching.

Someone in the thread mentioned using the Jesus Film or something similar in evangelism to people who are illiterate. This seems like a good idea to me, when paired with a clear proclamation of the gospel. Though I’m still not sure. Once in a small village in Nicaragua I was on a medical and evangelism team that toyed with the idea of showing The Passion (Mel Gibson). I was a kid and my father was the leader of the group. He decided against it. He thought it may be too violent and bloody. (My parents have a rule against R-rated films that I don’t share, but they are probably right and I may adopt the rule.) Most of those people had never seen a movie. An R-rated film is probably not one to start with,especially with little kids running around. I think we did show the Jesus Film though, if memory serves.

I certainly see how you can “practice Sola Scriptura” in your viewing even if the film-makers did not. I just don’t know if I can do that and if my family can. I find visual media so… determining in the way I think about things.

I firmly agree with your principle that the book is better than the movie. And further I think movies can be really good and depicting ideas and character traits and can aid in discipleship. I’ve recently showed my sons Master and Commander, Guns of Navarrone, and Bridge on the River Kwai, all with the goal of displaying determination, courage, grit… and we always talk about the film later - about the good, the bad and the ugly.

I’ve got to admit I haven’t considered paintings, sculpture and stained glass windows (someone else mentioned) in the same category. I guess my gut would be against putting up a “picture” of Jesus in my house but I like other biblical imagery just fine. (My next art purchase will probably be a print of Tanner’s Annunciation. I find it striking.)

But I digress. Thanks for your thoughts everyone.

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A few thoughts:

I’m not opposed to all stories of Scripture being avoided on the big screen (or on the lesser screens of Children’s Bibles.) I think there is not much wrong with having pictures of David and Goliath. He was, after all, just a man.

I’m probably over-zealous (I put stickers quoting the 2nd commandment over pictures of Jesus in my kids Bibles) but the 2nd Commandment (not any of the rest) is the one with all the dire warnings about God’s jealousy.

In college, when The Passion came out, my Bible study went together to see it. I abstained. Well, that’s putting it mildly. I objected. Vehemently. And that was long before I’d ever read a single bit of the Puritans. More than likely, it had something to do with my KJV-only Bible-thumping Grandpa Bailey. And I feared having to tell him I’d done something like go and watch a film depiction of Jesus.

That’s it precisely. I can easily scan my Facebook page for Evangelicals who make Roman Catholics look tame in their idolatry. Clutching crosses from their time at Chrysalis or The Brethren Way and talking about how they feel close to God when they clutch it. Pictures of golden-haired Jesus with promises of money and wealth.

Uneducated, yes. And that’s precisely the problem. We, with our superior education, think we could never fall to the gross sin of idolatry that so many in the pew have. But, what have we done but allow them to do it? We don’t love them enough to cover up that picture of Jesus and say to them to put that cross away.

Now, friends, this is coming from a pastor who preaches every Sunday in front of not one but TWO 10’ tall stained glass pictures of Jesus. And what did I just start teaching in Sunday School? Knowing God because of Packer’s chapter on this very subject. It was the first time most of the folks in the room had ever thought that perhaps, perhaps, pictures of Jesus were not all that innocent. Will it be enough for those stained glass portraits to fall? Lord willing, yes.

I think this is precisely the reason they are forbidden by God. Father knows best, after all.

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Love the way Packer explains the second commandment. He was helpful for me personally on that question.

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You’re with Pope Gregory here, “Images are the books of the unlearned.”

That’s my concern about using the Jesus film in evangelism, whether with illiterate or literate peoples. As for how to reach illiterate peoples with the gospel, what’s the problem with preaching to them?

Film simply wasn’t an option until what, 50 years ago? Why it is such a game changer now?

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Film is just a visual recording of a play, and theater was readily available in antiquity, but that is not how the Gospel was proclaimed.

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In fact, the church fathers were incredibly opposed to the theater.

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